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iEARN Sierra Leone- Child Soldiers PROJECT

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1 iEARN Sierra Leone- Child Soldiers PROJECT
Andrew Benson Greene

2 ABOUT ME Born in Sierra Leone - Civil War resulted in separation of 12,000 children from their families, kidnapped and forced to become soldiers In 1997, I was secretary General of the Fourah Bay College Students Union Government, and became a target. I fled to neighboring Guinea where I taught English to displaced children and refugees In 1999, I joined iEARN, a non-profit global network that enables young people to use the Internet and other new technologies to engage in collaborative educational projects I decided to dedicate my life to serving and teaching children who were brutalized by the violence all around them My commitment prompted me to form the national branch of iEARN in Sierra Leone with mostly Canadian support Now - I am a volunteer educator for the iEARN Sierra Leone Project, where I work to help youth communicate with others throughout the world. I became aware of the fate of children in Sierra Leone following the conflict in my country which lasted over 10 years.. I have been active for many years in giving the lives of children in Sierra Leone meaning again and increasing their prospects; children and youth, who have suffered as a result of unprecedented violence. Now, if there was ever anyone who had reason to be resentful, despairing, and bitter, it could have been me. Born and raised in a country that was divided by the violence of civil war, where brother fought against brother and sister against sister, and children and youth were recruited to do horrific acts of violence for the self-interests of greedy leaders, I did not sit by and watch as an entire international community ignored the pains and struggles of his fellow countrymen as if they were not even a blip on the international radar screen. I could easily have chosen the path of blaming others for the tragic circumstances of my country and the impossibilities of educating myself and the young people around me. I could have wallowed in self-pity, never moving a muscle to rebuild a destitute country. I could have clung to the status quo of survival for survival's sake. Instead, I chose the road less traveled.

3 About My project The project helps to bridge the digital divide in Sierra Leone through IT education to youth, and links Sierra Leone youth with others around the world to share in online educational projects The project engages war-affected youths/students in a variety of art forms; music, creative writing, enabling them use the internet to share these unique talents. Children affected by the war are taught useful IT skills and work together with other young children from all over the world on relevant social issues using the Internet. Youth are engaged in Peace building campaigns and human rights on-line I also believe that child soldiers and children/youth affected by the war can become ambassadors for peace by exchanging their ideas with other people of the same age from all over the world by means of telecommunication. This does not just promote learning, but also social justice and inspires a positive exchange because child victims of war can play a significant role in creating peace in their own villages and towns.

4 About My project The project identifies and builds the talents of youth in a medley of art forms, such as music, creative writing, dance drama, videos, and computer games, all geared towards psychosocial rehabilitation and a chance for youth to mingle, socialize and interact with each other in a friendly atmosphere. In so doing, the project builds the self-esteem of youth emerging from wars by providing them an outlet to build their skills and learn ICT skills in a safe, secure and alternative learning environment – ultimately displaying the potential that war affected youth have

5 How do ICTs help my project?
The use of ICT is a means by which the youth can share their unique talents, while at the same time use ICT skills to work together with peers from all over the world to discuss relevant social issues

6 Where are we now? More than 850 youth who have been trained so far are now profitably engaged in various places and many are helping the community in services related to ICT. These youth have gone ahead to replicate the program in their communities by engaging in civic participation and creating ICT clubs, modeled from the iEARN initiatives. The youth now gain community acceptance which was lacking in the past.- it demonstrates that former child soldiers and war affected youth can play active and rewarding roles in their community. Some of the youth who have been trained are forming new ICT or social clubs and other organizations modelled from the iEARN Sierra Leone initiative. One former trainee has formed the Sierra Leone chapter of World Voices and part of his effort is to train youth in ICT, whilst others are currently working with a team of youth on the 'We are the future project', which also has an ICT component.

7 Impacts After acquiring certificates of merit from the successful completion of software and hardware application programs, the youth are recommended to a few offices to assist in training staff on computer software programs In turn, they receive stipends for services delivered. Additionally, those with proven capabilities to address hardware problems gain apprenticeship to IT staff and supplement their efforts in the event of the staff being unavoidably absent. In turn, they offer training to other youth within the iEARN centre n Kono for example which is in the East, a District famed for diamonds, youth are going through a new reawakening of exploitations from former fighters in the war to cheap hands and labour in the diamond field. One of the youth representatives there is a former combatant who have had a good experience of ICT training in freetown and is currently working with his colleagues on all fours to replicate he iEARN ICT programs in kono so that youth can be drifted away from the mining fields. this is indeed a huge challenge for iEARN in a community that values only wealth and where children and youth have been so brainwashed that money can solve all their problems.

8 Impacts Trained youth are also sent to help in the establishment of centres in new locations around the country where iEARN Sierra Leone has done feasibility studies in the past, and identified potential for expansion. Interestingly, the youth sent there hail from these regions prior to their induction as child soldiers, and return to their places of origin to kick-start the program with the aid of other teacher facilitators. Once there, they are provided a few PC's and iEARN tries to attract community support so that the youth who have acted against their community during the war can be seen in a new light and gain acceptance. In reality, they now bring hope to other youth through imparting skills and also getting self-employed when charged with some roles.

9 Sustainability IEARN derives its financial support in the past and in recent times through donations from individuals, organizations, awards, fund- raising in a local and international level by individuals and groups, after office hours user fees paid by non-iEARN Sierra Leone students and youth. Our major finances have come from War Child Canada, and some other financial support came from the WH Day Elementary School in Bradford, Ontario, iEARN Canada, iEARN USA. and individuals like Phil Hoose of the Children's Music network, Jim Wright of the Sauve Scholars Foundation, and more recently Sarika Jain World Bank to help with a generator, and Janet Feldman, from ActAlive USA to asist in the music produced by the youth as part of psychosocial aspect and talent sharing.

10 Sustainability The ICT centres are equipped with necessary furniture and gadgets to run at subsidized cost. It is well managed and maintained regularly so that it can continue serving the communities permanently. Through iEARN Sierra Leone, professional and development components include the training and recruitment of teacher facilitators, who are equipped with relevant ICT knowledge and skills that can be used for the benefit of the war affected youth and building capacities of the target beneficiaries beyond the project timeline. The centre subsidizes - at non-youth training hours - internet access and desktop publishing services to the public and small user fees to non-members for on-going sustenance, such as fueling of generator and maintenance cost. The services of volunteers and trained youth additionally help to give more impetus to the program.

11 Our Partners iEARN Canada has been technically supporting the initiative by hosting and collaborating with the project. iEARN USA is a parent body that provides moral and technical assistance, serving as a source of reference for the program. War Child Canada has partnered with iEARN Sierra Leone on the DFAIT funded project ‘No War Zone’ and provided some financial support to connect the centre. Computer Aid International UK has provided computers for the pilot phase of the project and iEARN has also served as a source of reference proving the efficacy of the second-hand PC supplied. The project has also partnered with schools such s WH elementary school, in ‘Children Connecting Children for Peace’ which deals with online interaction so that Canadian youth can connect with youth of Sierra Leone to discuss peaceful solutions to conflict. The Ministry of Youth and Sports in Sierra Leone has provided moral assistance as well as the current space to house the gadgets for youth participation.

12 Scaling Up My vision for the project is to equip communities in the 12 districts of Sierra Leone with ICT for young people in the rural towns and Urban districts to gain valuable skills. Named ‘The iEARN Sierra Leone Youth Centre for Information and Technology’, the centers will have computers, internet facilities, video and music editing, and production rooms. The centres would become the main hubs from which the 12 districts can rely for technical support and reference. It would be dedicated to youth who have endured war and its effect in Sierra Leone. The program will seek potentials donors, collaborating partners to assist with financial and technical support to scale up the project. The program plans to promote peace education in the local school curriculum and provide an outlet for young people to interact online on issues of promoting peace and global understanding Includes the publication of a book comprising of the current peace situation in Sierra Leone through the writings provided by iEARN youth and their counterparts around the world. Currently, iEARN Plans to contact DFID through the Ministry of Youth and sports in Sierra Leone to assist in the shipment of 100 recycled computers from Computer Aid International. Already, the Districts of Bo and Kono have received 10 gadgets each for the pilot phases of the project. We are proud of our accomplishments so far, but iEARN Sierra Leone remain in dire need of financial support to strengthen our programmatic activities, train our youth, and give them a voice through the power of the Internet.

13 Constraints At first when we got started, the community failed to see our vision and considered the youth as no good, due to their involvement in the war. Through dogged efforts we were able to convince the community that these youth can make a difference by using ICT and the program gradually gained community acceptance which was visibly lacking. Due to the constraints of accessing the technology in the past, I often took my students and war affected youth from the outskirts of the capital by bus, then walked long distances and queued up with them in a cyber café to give them some time on the Internet. The time was used to showcase the students work on

14 Lessons Learned, Insights
I knew that in order for the program to kick-off in earnest, it would need community acceptance, and so it was registered through the Ministry of youth and Sports, and the Sierra Leone association of NGO. I lobbied together with partners at iEARN USA and iEARN Canada to convince Computer Aid International in UK that youth of iEARN Sierra Leone can be the change when they can learn practical ICT skills. The supply of 10 computers created much encouragement for the expansion and recognition of the program. Hundreds of youth in the communities and schools began to flock in and gained skills - which drifted their minds from idleness and the perpetration of mayhem.

15 Wish list Governments , civil society must create more opportunities for youth, like building centres for both educational and recreational purposes. Creating employment opportunities for youth in ICT sectors through provision of the tools to capacitate youth for self-engagement and self-employment, and even real job roles.

16 Thank you

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